Reviewed by Tony Annicone
The National Tour of “Cabaret” is the latest musical to grace the stage at the historic Hanover Theatre in Worcester, MA. This Kander and Ebb Tony Award winning musical is set in the tumultuous city of Berlin right before Hitler’s rise to power. “Cabaret” won it’s first Tony for best show in 1967, the second Tony for best revival in 1998 and is based on Christopher Isherwood’s “Berlin Stories” and John Van Druten’s “I Am a Camera.” This version was inspired by the 1993 production at the Donmar Warehouse in London. The action takes place in the Kit Kat Klub where the show begins with the jazz number “Wilkommen” as well as in Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house and Herr Schultz’s fruit shop. Cliff Bradshaw, a young American novelist arrives on the train to Berlin where Ernst, a German businessman, places his briefcase among Cliff’s luggage at the German border and uses it as an opportunity to make Cliff’s acquaintance.
This simple act will be the catalyst for the friends Cliff will make, the place he will live and the woman he will love in Berlin, Sally Bowles, a wild and sensual performer at the Kit Kat Klub. Far from the increasingly hostile streets of Berlin, the club offers the illusion that all people are beautiful and life is whatever anyone wants it to be. Cliff and Sally begin a briefly wonderful but heartbreaking affair doomed by the dangerous city. Neighbors Schneider and Schultz find it possible to love each other, but the reverberation of the rising Nazi party shakes them all out of their innocence. The pivotal character is the Emcee who interacts and reacts to the chaos in the world around him. The cabaret act becomes more political and the behavior more undesirable as the show progresses. The anthem of the Nazi party “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” anticipates the rise of Hitler and the shocking political turmoil on the horizon. This production is directed by Sam McNicholl, musically directed by Erik Flaten and choreographed by Jennifer Werner with a “Perfectly Marvelous” cast who bring this show to life.
Leading this cast is Erik Schneider as the Emcee. He is a multitalented performer who plays the omnipresent Emcee and gets to speak directly to the audience and dance with a couple of people in the audience before the second act. Erik is not only a superb actor but a fantastic singer and fabulous dancer, too, stopping the show numerous times during the performance. His voice soars in the opening number, “Wilkommen” where he welcomes the audience into the nightclub, “Two Ladies” where he agrees with the outside world’s view of free love with two people ( Staci Jo Johnston and Conor Schulz ), “The Money Song” from the movie where he explains everyone could use more dough now especially Cliff since Sally is now pregnant, “If You Could See Her” where he dances with a gorilla where they do a comic soft shoe routine while reflecting the growing anti-Semitic sentiment in Berlin and in the finale where the Nazis herd them off to the death camps which delivers a powerful punch to the frightened audience. Erik gets a chance to display his serious side in the haunting ballad from the revival called “I Don’t Care Much” where his carefree attitude about people being beaten up or killed has no effect on him at all and it during this song that Sally decides to leave Cliff and return to the cabaret. His transition from comic to serious figure is very well done and startling to behold, proving he’s one of the best performers around.
Bailey McCall Thomas plays the sexy, Sally Bowles. Her British accent is wonderful and she looks terrific in her blonde wig. Bailey’s first two opening numbers are “Don’t Tell Mama”, a comic dance song with the girls with her in a huge chair and “Mein Herr” with the girls dancing with their cigarettes dangling from their lips Her next number is “Perfectly Marvelous” where she convinces Cliff to let her move in with him. Bailey’s reflective numbers are “Maybe This Time” where she contemplates settling down with the man she loves and the show stopping “Cabaret” where she decides the cabaret stage is the life for her. She does a lovely job as the carefree gal with her joie de vivre. Carl Pariso does a great job into the underwritten role of Cliff. Carl captures the essence of the writer who wants to succeed at his craft. However he has to face the reality of his carefree, girlfriend and the Nazi threat closing in on him. He displays his voice in “Perfectly Marvelous” duet and gives depth to the tragic ending of their relationship in the final scene with Bailey.
Audrey Federici plays Fraulein Schneider, the elderly widow who runs the boarding house. Her strong acting prowess shines throughout the show as well as in her two character songs which displays her powerful voice. Her first song is “So What” where she explains how she went from riches to rags but will still struggle to survive and the emphatic “What Would You Do?” which is the terrifying realization about the Nazi takeover. This last number leaves the audience in tears at her dramatic rendition and wins her thunderous applause. Her elderly suitor, Herr Schultz is played by Fred Frabotta who displays his strong tenor voice. He is the kindly fruit store owner who woos her first with a pineapple in their duet “It Couldn’t Please Me More” and later to protect her honor by asking for her hand in marriage with the gorgeous ballad “Married” which is my favorite song in the show. Both Audrey and Fred play their parts terrifically, giving the show its warmth with their love.
The villain of this piece is Ernst who is expertly played by Richard LeFleur. I last reviewed him as Leo Bloom in “The Producers” at Theatre by the Sea this summer where he stole the show in that comic role. Richard’s character has some funny lines early on in the first act but in the final scene of the first act, Ernst shows his true colors when he removes his raincoat revealing the swastika armband. This is where the seriousness of the situation appears and terror descends on the audience. Richard displays his strong voice in the Nazi anthem “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” and the chorus joins him in the song with goose stepping precision. Fraulein Kost is wonderfully played by Adriana Milbrath. Kost is the boarding house’s resident prostitute who brings sailors in and out of her room at all hours of the day and night. Adriana is hilarious at first but shows herself to be a Nazi sympathizer when she denounces Schultz as a Jew and sings “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” to celebrate Ernst and her Nazi pals. Kudos to the entire chorus on a job very well done. The cast also plays various instruments onstage for the show. So for a terrific rendition of “Cabaret”, be sure to catch it at the Hanover Theatre before they goose step out of town. Tell them Tony sent you.
CABARET (28 to 31 December)
The Hanover Theatre, 2 Southbridge St., Worcester, MA
1(877)571-SHOW or www.thehanovertheatre.org